For me the situation in Dallas is pretty obvious. If we have any semblance of a Defense that can stop teams, the Cowboys have a very decent chance. It certainly isn’t a given that we will. I think we all know that by now. Losing Sean Lee put a huge damper on my enthusiasm for the coming season. Not going to lie to you.
Sean Lee has quickly become one of my top 2 favorite players on this team, and of course part of that is because DeMarcus Ware is gone. Sean Lee’s instincts have him born to play football. It is a travesty that his body has let him down like it has. Unlike the immortal powerlifter/MMA types who regularly describe a player as glass, I can’t do that. I couldn’t for Fred Taylor, and I won’t for a Dallas Cowboys player either. It is a brutal game and though this injury did not happen in a game, I do not believe it defines this player or any other. I have too much respect for the game to feel like people should be able to avoid injuries. They happen. They suck, but they happen.
Enter a player whom I do hope will shut a lot of people up. That is Rolando McClain. I’m not going to lie folks, this excites the hell out of me. I pimped this player like mad when he was in the Draft, and the fact that we landed him now has me hopeful. Do I think he can fill Lee’s shoes? No, I do not. Do I think he can plug the gaping hole that Lee’s injury left? Yes, I do. You’ve heard me say more than once that I hope his head is on straight. If it is, the Cowboys very well may have stolen him, and naturally I hope we have.
I think Bruce Carter having a rebound season is probably just as big a need for the Cowboys to be honest. I truly think Carter is a key to improvement more than most other players. No one can deny his freakish athletic ability. We saw him nearly blossom into a star a couple of seasons ago when Lee went down then. I think he played tentative last year. Whether that was because of the injury or the change in scheme or some other factor, he can’t afford to do that again. Next year if he and McClain both work out, and Lee comes back healthy we could have a monster LB Corps. For me Carter is the key to a lot in 2014.
I like the focus this off season on the Cowboys Defensive front. I naturally hated losing Ware and Hatcher. I cannot say that right now I put Melton and Lawrence above them. However, it is important to note that in only 3/4 of our games last year did we have both of these guys on the field at the same time, and I really don’t think we can say Ware was healthy. At least I can’t. They weren’t the problem. It was everyone else we trotted out there trying to piece together some facsimile of a Defensive Line. It is not above the realm of possible that DeMarcus Lawrence can give us a better 2014 than Ware gave us in 2013. In fact, I think it is in our best interests to expect it of him.
Is that enough? Frankly, no it isn’t. We also need George Selvie to at least replicate what he did last year, Crawford to be the player we keep hearing about, and it would be very nice to see the Henry Melton of 2011 and 2012 when he was working with Rod Marinelli in the “Windy City”. I saw one fan recently saying that Melton has never had a season like Hatcher did last year. Apparently that football savant doesn’t know that Hatcher hasn’t put together back to back impact years the way the still young Melton did in the two years above. He’s coming off an injury, and we simply cannot afford for him to be tentative. He is too big a factor in the overall success of the Cowboys D-line to ignore.
I think the reports we’ve been hearing about Terrell McClain are just about as exciting as anything we’ve heard all off season. I was kind of nonplussed when the Cowboys signed him. I mean, yeah I know he was a decently high pick of the Panthers, then played for the Texans, but I haven’t thought of him coming here and changing or improving the team the same way I have for Melton. Now, I am thinking his spot in the D-Line rotation might be a critical piece of the mosaic. It is really obvious to me that Marinelli is going to use a lot of guys to keep them fresh and attacking. Gone are the days of 4 solid blocks of granite on the DL trying to hold the line of scrimmage hostage. We’re going to have 8 or 9 guys coming in and out, and most of all attacking the football and QB.
That’s the key to improving on last year’s lousy Defense. Depth and strength in numbers. We need to be able to have more in the tank at the end of the game than the Offense does, because no Offensive Line in the NFL is going to have a similar strategy of fresh legs. That is the corps you want stability and precision from so much that you the same 5 guys play every snap that isn’t garbage time. To overcome the other team’s blockers we’re going to need to come after them fast, furious, and with just enough “pissed off” to make it work.
That’s where I think Crawford is a true key on the Defensive Line this year. I think he is capable of being our long term starter at LDE opposite his fellow Boise State alum Lawrence. In a perfect world I’d like to see him and Selvie rotating on that side and a healthy Anthony Spencer rotating with Lawrence. Crawford also has the versatility to play any of the front 4 positions which to me means we have to get him in on more snaps than anyone else on the DL rotation. There can be no excuse for the Cowboys not using him in any way we can.
Some may ask about Jeremy Mincey, and where he fits in in this equation. I’m not sure he does unless there are injuries again. Maybe he fills in until Spencer is ready, but I just don’t see him in the long term plans of this team the same way I do with Ben Gardner whom I still think may have been our plum pick for the last day of the Draft. I watched a lot of Pac 12 games and I honestly thought he was a better player than Trent Murphy for the last 2 years. I think we stole him to be quite truthful. I’d keep him over Mincey unless Spencer starts the year on PUP, then I keep both.
I honestly don’t know what to think about Amobi Okoye, Josh Brent (he’s not even signed yet) or Nick Hayden. The main reason I don’t know what to think is because of a kid the Cowboys signed named Davon Coleman whom I do like a lot. Is he ready now? I can’t say that, and if he’s not then we need at least one of those 3 guys to be good enough to play in the rotation. I’d like for it to be Okoye, but for no reason other than I like stealing someone else’s high Draft picks and capitalizing on them. I like it a lot. The Raiders used to make a living doing that in their heyday.
Why not us? Okoye doesn’t have to be a Leon Lett to help us win. He can be a Jimmie Jones. He certainly has the pedigree, but does he have the stones? We sort of learned last year what Marinelli thinks of Hayden’s stones. Of course he meant more about his hair than his junk in giving him that nickname. At least I hope so. No player makes me waffle more than Hayden if you want to know the truth. On the one hand I do not believe he’s good enough to start in the NFL. On the other I saw him last year as a decent pick up and a good story. But the Cowboys don’t need good stories, we need production. He certainly isn’t a starter in my opinion, but is a contributor to wins? If the talent around him is right, he could be.
So then what about Ken Bishop, a kid we drafted late who on film looks great. I like what I see in those highlights, but I worry he might take a roster spot that is critical. No matter what anyone thinks of Josh Brent, if we bring him back and he is one of the 10 best DL on the squad, we’d be foolish to let him go. Had he not drank away his 2013 he probably would have started for us last year, and I think would have been an improvement on “Goldilocks”. His story could be a great one of retribution and overcoming a horrible moment, or he could add train wreck to a tragic car wreck.
I do think the Cowboys are going to keep 10 Defensive Linemen and I think at least 9 of them will be game day active. It probably will be 8 instead of 9, but the thought is the same. Get the guy in there who has the most gas in his tank and attack. Mash the accelerator to the floor and drive the wheels off. That is what I think we have to do in order to improve upon the 432 points we gave up last year.
In order to accomplish that, we need for the pressure we put on the QB to give the DBs the opportunity to do what they did last year in taking the ball away. We took the ball away 28 times last year. 15 picks and 13 fumble recoveries. 10 of the picks were by DBs, the other 5 were by Sean Lee (the team leader with 4 despite missing 5 games and only playing a small portion of another before getting hurt) and DeMarcus Ware. The DBs also recovered 4 of those fumbles.
Now, I’d like to see those numbers go up obviously. We all would. For this to happen I think we need to acknowledge that the chip Morris Claiborne allegedly has on his shoulder to shut up his critics is very welcome. No one denies Mo’s upside. What they’ve panned are his efforts and inability to stay healthy enough to make an impact. He knows this and someone I know who has close ties to the Cowboys tells me he is a man possessed this off season. The truth is he may be the guy working hardest on the entire Defense to improve. Hence the chip.
Old timers like me will remember the old Robert Conrad commercials where he put a battery on his shoulder and dared you to knock it off. We need Carr and Claiborne to dare QBs to throw the ball and make someone pay when they do. I don’t care if that someone is the QB or the Receiver, just make someone pay. They are going to give up completions. All CBs do. But then they need to hit, strip, and intimidate. The Cowboys have 2 CBs in them who are big, physical, and athletic. They need to live up to their billing and in the case of Carr, his salary number.
A lot has been made of them being more suited to man up physically than to play a Tampa 2 zone. The truth is, in the NFL you better be able to do both. I don’t care what coverage is called, play physical and smart. Both are capable of it. Both left too much on the field last year by virtue of not having enough consistency in pressuring the QB to give them more opportunities.
Every DB on the Cowboys frankly needs to match the attitude and intensity of Orlando Scandrick. He begged the Coaches to give him the toughest assignments and then he laughed when those WRs whined about how rough he was. I don’t care whether he plays wide or in the slot, if he can match last year and push others to play as hard, or with that kind of chip, it bodes well for this Defense. If he is once again alone in playing tough coverage, it could be a long season. The talent is there. We need the effort to match the talent.
Which finally brings me to the Safety position. Along with the D-Line I think you may see this being a target area in the 2015 Draft if we do not get better effort in 2014 than we did in 2013. I have no issue with Barry Church’s tackling, but his coverage needs to be better. JJ Wilcox at times gave me hopes of delivering some Cliff Harris like crunching blows. I didn’t see enough of them and apparently the coaches didn’t either as he got benched for a player in Jeff Heath who might be the epitome of “We have to do better than that”.
The reports about Jakar Hamilton are encouraging. We’d all like to see why the Cowboys have such faith in Matt Johnson. I was pretty high on Ahmad Dixon and had him as high as 3rd round in some of my mocks. Dixon is a thumper who will have to earn his way on STs and take what chances he is given. Last year I was hoping lightning would strike twice and give us a Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris tandem again. One was a fairly high draft pick, the other an Undrafted Free Agent. I was hoping Hamilton and Wilcox were the 2nd coming of that. Maybe they still will be. Maybe Dixon takes a spot. Maybe Church keeps his. I know this, we need the Safety play in 2014 to be much improved over the ‘lost’ Jeff Heath I saw too much at the end of last year.
Nothing against Heath, but it just wasn’t good enough. In fact that is true of the entire Cowboys defensive effort in 2013. It just wasn’t good enough. If it is good enough this year, I actually have some faith that our Offense and Special Teams are good enough to shock the NFL and the doubters. The key word is IF.
Isn’t it always?